2003 February 26 Wednesday
Ideological Iraq War Debate And Reconstruction

Richard Cohen examines arguments being made by anti-war Left in the United States and finds a blatant disregard for the truth.

Because something truly awful has happened. The looming war has already become deeply and biliously ideological. By that I mean that the extremes on both sides -- but particularly the war's opponents -- no longer feel compelled to prove a case or stick to the facts. As with Vietnam, this is becoming an emotional battle between ideologues who, as usual, don't give a damn about the truth.

What is remakable about the article is to find Cohen essentially agreeing with the likes of Richard Perle that a Democratic Congressman and other ideologues are making arguments against the war that are outright lies.

The Guardian in the UK, hostile to the coming war, quotes a former cabinet minister approvingly that "the evidence is not yet compelling".

The nub of yesterday's exchanges came when Mr Smith told Mr Blair that, as a candid friend, Britain must tell the US that "the evidence is not yet compelling, that the work of the inspectors is not yet done, and the moral case for war, with all its consequences, has not yet been made."

The "case hasn't been made" argument has as its purpose to say that a war should never be fought. The people who make this argument believe there is no set of facts that could be found about Iraq that would make a case for war. Weapons found? That shows inspections are working. Weapons not found? That shows there are no weapons to be found. But of course the weapons are there and well hidden. There is no way short of war to achieve a level of control of the country sufficient to compel the hiders of the weapons and the weapons labs to reveal where they are hidden. This was true before the UN sent in inspectors. It is true now. It will be true months from now if an attack is not conducted. Inspectors lack sufficient investigative power to find the weapons and weapons labs.

Arguing about the coming war (and it is quite inevitable that the war will be fought) seems tiresome at this point. Most of the loudest political opponents are ideologues who have little interest in the truth about Iraqi weapons programs or potential ways that those weapons programs can contribute to a threat to the rest of the world. Claims that the inspections need to be given more time to work are not sincere. Most who make those claims either do not want the inspections to work or are indifferent to the efficacy of the inspections.

The Iraq war debate is mostly still about whether we should have a war and why. The "why" inevitably leads to the question of how the war will affect the governance of Iraq once Saddam is gone.

There are opponents whose reason for opposition are at least intellectually serious. One serious reason to oppose the war is the argument that it will be very difficult to reform Iraqi society afterwards. There are aspects of Arab culture that make the introduction of Western style democracy (replete with free press, free speech, and limts to corruption) very difficult. Many war hawks are so intent upon discrediting all arguments against the war that they do not take seriously the difficulty of reforming Iraqi society afterward. My own view is that we have such a compelling need to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that we need to invade solely for that reason even if we can not install a sustainable democratic and free political system afterward. Furthermore, in the aftermath we need to make a serious effort to try to establish a liberal democracy in order to demonstrate our good will toward the Arab societies as a whole.

Among the hawks those who argue for creating a democracy in Iraq after the war writers like David Pryce-Jones argue that of course Arabs are able to enjoy freedom.

It is shocking to discover how deep lies the prejudice against Arabs being able to enjoy freedom. It is to be found in some surprising places other than the demonstration in Hyde Park: the CIA, for example, and the US State Department have long taken the view that Iraq is so tribal and retrograde a country that only a brutal dictator like Saddam could control it.

It is cheap and easy to strike a moral pose about one's own greater concern for the cause of freedom in Arab lands. But the question is not whether the Arabs are capable of enjoying freedom. The question is whether they have the set of beliefs needed to support a secular liberal democracy. A free society does not just depend on each individual being willing to do whatever they want to do for themself. It also depends on the willingness of people to make serious efforts to protect the rights of others in one's own society to also be free. Different cultures do not all equally embrace the values that make secular liberal democracy possible. This has to be acknowledged or we will not even begin to try to address the magnitude of the task inherent in any attempt to make Iraq compatible with secular liberal democracy.

In an interview with Nicholas Lemann current Bush Administration Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith relates the Bush Administration position that the Arab countries do not face any particular incompatibility between either their religion or their culture and democracy.

"Then, you have the phenomenon that this greater freedom that came to Latin America, that came to various parts of Asia, largely missed the Middle East. And there is all kinds of writing on the subject, on whether there is anything inherently incompatible between either Muslim culture, or Arab culture, and this kind of freer government. This Administration does not believe there is an inherent incompatibility. And if Iraq had a government like that, and if that government could create some of those institutions of democracy, that might be inspirational for people throughout the Middle East to try to increase the amount of freedom that they have, and they would benefit both politically and economically by doing so."

The problem with this kind of rhetoric is that it discourages the Administration from looking seriously at the elements in Islam and in Arab society that have retarded the development of liberal democracy in the Middle East. This rhetoric sounds so nice to those who embrace the language of multiculturalism. It allows the speakers of such rhetoric to strike a high moral pose. But in reality its intellectually bankrupt.

Feith's reference to the spread of democracy in Latin America leaves one with the impression that he thinks democracy in Latin America is a success story. Yet the events unfolding in Venezuela are not a democratic success story. Also, the problem is not limited to Venezuela. Limits on freedom of the press and freedom of speech and other forms of freedom are still widespread in Latin America. See the UN Human Development Report 2002 (warning 2.7 Megabyte PDF file) starting on page 38. The UN uses a whole series of indexes where lower is better including Civil Liberties (7 to 1), Political Rights (7 to 1), and Press Freedom (100 to 0). On these Mexico scores 3, 2, and 46 respectively. That's a pretty bad press freedom score. But it is better than Colombia (4, 4, 60), better than Peru (3, 3, 54) and better and worse than Venezuela (5, 3, 34).

To get an accurate picture of how democracy is faring the world over we have to look at details that go beyond the simple question of whether countries hold elections with competing candidates. We need to ask whether they have managed to develop secular liberal democracies in the Western style with restraints on government, firm protection and popular respect for freedoms of press and speech, effective control of corruption (which more than anything depends on the values civil servants bring to the job), provide widespread access to the legal system for protecting property rights (see Hernando de Soto's writings on the importance of accessibility of property rights legal systems), and rule of law for all then the picture in many parts of the world suddenly becomes much worse. Much of the discussion going on about how to transform Iraqi political culture and society as Germany and Japan were transformed after WWII is enormously naive about history and about the details of what is required to succeed in creating a successful secular liberal democracy.

While some writers have expressed the hope that Westernized Iraqis will return home to Iraq to settle and form a new elite with more enlightened attitudes Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is pitching to Iraqi residents in the US that service with the US occupation force could be a fast track to US citizenship.

"As a reservist you would be mobilised to serve in Iraq but would return to civilian status in the US," he said.

"You may be eligible for accelerated US citizenship if you are not a citizen already, and your civilian job would be protected while you are mobilised," he said.

Some argue that the US military administration should quickly give way to an Iraqi civilian administration.

Mr. Chalabi raised the alarm again last week, with an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Telegraph warning that “the proposed U.S. occupation and military administration of Iraq is unworkable and unwise,” and asserting, “the liberation of our country and its reintegration into the world community is ultimately a task that we Iraqis must shoulder.”

Others argue that a UN administration should quickly take over.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says appointing an American to oversee Iraq after President Saddam Hussein is removed from power would be a serious mistake.

The Democratic senator, in a speech prepared for Wednesday delivery to the Council on Foreign Relations, calls on the Bush administration to work with the United Nations to name an international administrator to oversee reconstruction.

Many people making arguments about post-war Iraq seem more obsessed by the outward forms of government. What they lack is an appreciation of what is the biggest reconstruction task: to create the kind of society that will actively support and defend a secular liberal democracy. It is foolish to think that our major problem is to choose the right guy to put in charge, draw up the forms of a government with a written constitution, work quickly toward having elections, and that then all will be well. Whether a US general, a UN administrator or an appointed Iraqi civilian becomes ruler is really besides the point. Unless the populace goes thru such a transformation in values and beliefs that it feels less loyalty to extended familiy and tribe and more loyalty to the values of a liberal democratic society it does not matter who is placed in charge. What we should be discussing is what a post-war administration should try in order to help develop the beliefs that will sustain a positive change in Iraqi culture.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 February 26 03:38 AM  Reconstruction and Reformation

Invisible Scientist said at February 26, 2003 7:33 AM:


The article says:
"As with Vietnam, this is becoming
an emotional battle between ideologues who,
as usual, don't give a damn about the truth."

Part of the issue is actually class warfare. This
happens during economic collapses, when some people
feel that they have not benefited from the previous
economic boom the way the successful ones did. Without
saying who is right or wrong, I am just observing that
those leftist Americans who are against
war, or "pro-Saddam", are saying these things
because they feel that this military action is
really to protect the interests of the "upper class
they want to overthrow." In other words, these
disgruntled leftist people are the ones who are
actually questioning the "American System" they have
not benefited from overall.
The observation is that if the economy collapses,
there will be a lot of people who will think that
they have nothing to lose if the US loses the war.

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